Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Katharina Fritsch

A recent trip to the SF MOMA yielded my initial discovery of one of the most important sculptors living today, German artist, Katharina Fritsch. Her sculptures consist of simple outlines and bold use of color. Her figures and objects are reminiscent of fairy tales, fables and myths and have a way of imprinting on one’s mind.

When I walked into the room that contained her work, I saw four circles of 224 big, black, plastic poodles arranged in tight, densely packed rings, surround an infant poised on an eight-pointed gold star. The points of the star created eight radiating axes by which the poodles were aligned. The result was a stunning visual play of repetitive patterns in space.

Fritsch's intention is to lodge an indelible visual image in the mind of the viewer, indissolubly fusing experience and memory. Although some viewers may have found the poodles threatening, they appeared to be on alert watch, guarding over the child. And despite the ominous atmosphere, a strange undercurrent of humor is present in the quirky oddness of both the poodles and the baby.

Fritsch chose the poodle as a dog that is cute and beguiling but can also be aggressive and mean. Soon after completing the piece, she recalled that a poodle appears in the story of Faust, retold in a nineteenth-century novel by Johann Wolfgang Goethe that is known to every German schoolchild. While out walking, Faust sees a black poodle and brings it home, unknowingly inviting the devil into his study. The baby suggests the innocence of children at birth, untouched by evil and misfortune. As it begins the journey of life, it must face the tensions of civilization and the potential for corruption.

The attention that Fritsch pays to the surfaces of the sculptures, and to their color, scale, and the space in which they are presented creates a strange tension between the familiar and the uncanny. A life-size elephant is anatomically exact down to the last fold of skin, but painted an unearthly blue-green.

A man, tucked up in bed, is confronted by a giant black mouse that squats on his chest. The effect of giving solid reality to the visionary and fantastic is unsettling. It is a relationship that Fritsch is keen to explore.

'I find the play between reality and apparition very interesting', she says, 'I think my work moves back and forth between these two poles.'

Her sculptures open up dark areas of our collective consciousness and confront deep-seated anxieties, although this is often tempered by humor. Their iconography is drawn from many different sources, including Christianity, art history and folklore, without being reducible to a single source or meaning.

In her working process, Fritsch combines the techniques of traditional sculpture with those of industrial production. She uses models to create moulds, from which the final sculptures are cast in materials such as plaster, polyester and aluminum.

Many are made as editions, meaning that multiple casts are taken from one mould. Full of allusions to nightmares, spectres and symbolic figures, Fritsch's work gives substance and weight to the fleeting products of our imagination.

Her work has been the subject of exhibitions at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Tate Modern, and theMuseum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; and the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart. She is represented by the Matthew Marks Gallery in New York. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthew_Marks_Gallery

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Stacy Alexander